January 24th, 2006


a vote for the N.D.P. is a vote for Stephen Harper

One difference between Canadian and American elections is that in Canada, there are several viable left-wing parties. There are the Liberals, ruling party for the last 12 years, and considered just left-of-center by most Canadians. Then there's the NDP, quite a bit more to the left, who have been gaining ground and now have a sizable representation in the House. Finally, the Green party is starting to gather enough votes to make a difference (more on that below).

Ever since I've been exposed to politics in Canada, the Liberal party has always used the Conservatives (who have gone through many party splits and alliances over this time) as a tool to scare leftist voters into choosing them, instead of the parties further to the left. The message goes, "Sure, we may not be the best party, but you wouldn't want the conservatives to win, would you? *shudder*" Anyway, in this election, with more evidence that Liberals may not in fact be the best party, and the conservatives gaining ground, this message was out in full force. Of course, the NDP tried to respond, explaining that this strategy only made sense in ridings that are contested between the Liberals and Conservatives. But then things get unclear, since perhaps the best indicator of a contested riding is the 2004 election, but liberal support has fallen since the last election, and there is no good way to determine by how much it has fallen within your riding. I, for example, was in a difficult spot: the last election saw liberals with an 9% lead in my riding. Was there a chance that the conservatives would pull ahead of them? It was anyone's guess.

Of course, after the election, things are much less confusing. Overall, the Conservaties did win a plurality, though not a majority of seats. In my riding, the Liberals incumbent was reelected with a 7% margin. And the NDP managed to pick up another 10 seats, despite the Liberal "scare tactics." But I was curious: to what extent were the Liberals right?

Fortunately, Elections Canada (whose website was both more responsive and better-designed than the CBC's on election night) lets you download the preliminary results of the election, with votes in each riding separated by party. So I present you with this table:

Party Current Liberal + NDP Liberal + NDP + Green NDP + Green

The first column shows the results of yesterday's election. The second one is what would have happened if all the NDP voters in the contested districts had voted for the Liberals instead. (You can add the NDP and Liberal numbers in that column to see what would happen if people voted for Liberals instead of the NDP in all districts.) In the third, I factor in the Green party votes as well. So if Canada had one left-wing party, rather than three, it would have 195 representatives in parliament.

I was actually somewhat surpised to see that the Greens make that much of a difference. For another look at the effect of the Greens, see the last column, where I changed all the Green votes into votes for the NDP, giving them 5 extra seats. So the Green party certainly has enough support to matter, though not enough to get elected anywhere.